Book Review: The Art of War – Sun Tzu

“The supreme act of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” – Sun Tzu.

Fascinating book, more like a guide to perfection of war. War has been and still is the result of every conflict of humanity. It is quite amazing how advanced and way ahead of his time Sun Tzu was! To have a guide on how to defeat the enemy and for this guide to still be relevant in today’s day and age, that itself is an enormous advantage back in the day!

The book covers, most elegantly, the strategies that one ought to bear in mind for the destruction of the enemy. From the 9 different types of ground, using elements such as fire, earth, water and wind to your advantage, how to trick the enemy with spies (all warfare is based on deception), with perfect manoeuvres, the timely use of a bluff or feigning stupidity, the implementation of the utmost discipline to your soldiers and keeping them satisfied with rewards, the incredible importance that the commander-in-chief’s behaviour has on the army and on victory or defeat, how the mindset of your army changes everything, the use of birds for knowing if an enemy has occupied a certain region, if an army is doomed to certain death, their resolve with be maximum “when there is no escape, soldiers will prefer death to flight.”

Above all, rapidity – that is the essence of war. Taking advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness and making your way by unexpected routes, attacking undefended or less defended spots. Like the thunder which is heard before you have time to stop your ears against it. Plus, long delays and long wars is often associated with disaster, with the exhaustion of supplies and decay of the mindset of the solider.

The Art of War is a book attributed to Sun Tzu, who is revered as a legendary historical military figure, as well as a philosopher, and whose real name is Sun Wu. The name Sun Tzu is actually an honorary title meaning “Master Sun”.

Although the historicity of Sun Tzu is doubtable, and the book may very well have been a compilation of several scholars – we still have the privilege of possessing one of the first and most profound books ever written on strategy and war, whose principles are still used to this day due to the their importance.

The Art of War is not only concerned with modern warfare, but also spreads and influences the mindset of people in politics, games, and business.

It presents a sort of philosophy, a state of mind or psychology for managing conflicts and winning battles. It is closely tied to the philosophy of Taoism, which follows the Tao or “The Way”,  the principle of the universe to which everything is connected. It is about Yin and Yang, life and death, action and inaction – which is why the highest victory is one attained without engaging in a fight.

Main Takeaways

Chapter 1. Laying Plans

The soldier must be in complete accord with the ruler, regardless of life and death, undismayed by danger. The commander-in-chief’s behaviour can signify victory or defeat: he must be wise and benevolent, but also sincere and strict.

All warfare is based on deception. If an army is strong it must appear weak, if it is weak, it must appear strong. Feigning stupidity and the timely use of a bluff can greatly increase the chance of victory.

Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating to the enemy’s purpose.

“The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

Chapter 2. Waging War

War must be swift. Rapidity is the essence of war. Long delays are associated with disaster, exhausting all the supplies, leading to hunger and the decay of the will to fight of an army.

Therefore, take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness and make your way by unexpected routes, attacking undefended or weak spots. Like the thunder which is heard before the flash of a lightning bolt.

For this, the ruler must implement the utmost discipline, an iron will, into his soldiers and keep them satisfied with rewards, essential for the motivation of the army and for having a purpose of defeating the enemy.

Chapter 3. Attack by Stratagem

The skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting, and he captures their cities without laying siege to them. The enemy should be eliminated strategically, leaving the civilians and city untouched and the men will be rewarded with all the enemy’s supplies.

To win, you must know when to fight and when not to fight and how to handle both superior and inferior forces. Great results can be achieved with small forces.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you’ll succumb in every battle.

Chapter 4. Tactical dispositions

Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

Chapter 5. Energy

In battle, there are no more than two methods of attack: the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres.

The direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory, attacking the enemy’s flank or rear.

Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

The energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain.

Chapter 6. Weak points and strong

By figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy, you can be sure of succeeding in your attacks.

Sun Tzu was no believer in frontal attacks, but rather in a combination of surprise tactics such as attacking the weak points of the enemy’s camp,  splitting up the enemy’s reinforcements as to weaken their strength in numbers, and luring him so as to find out his vulnerable spots.

In essence, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

Chapter 7. Manoeuvring

The hardship of forced marches are often more painful than the dangers of battle. Fighting with an exhausted army is a sure way to defeat, therefore – they must be only used when intended for surprise attacks within short distances.

Attack the spirit of the enemy’s army while your army’s spirit is at its highest. This is an effective way to victory.  

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

One thing to mention is not interfere with an army that is returning home. For a man whose heart is set on returning home will fight to the death against any attempt to bar his way, making it too dangerous an opponent to tackle.

8. Variation of tactics

The wise leader considers both advantages and disadvantages and turning a disadvantage into an advantage.

If surrounded by enemies with the only objective of retreating, the adversary will pursue and crush the army. It would be far better to encourage the men to counter-attack and use the advantage thus gained to free them from the enemy’s toils.

The art of war teaches us not to rely on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.

Sun Tzu explains that a general is not to be careless with the welfare of his troops, but rather to emphasise the danger of sacrificing any important military advantage to the immediate comfort of his men.

For there is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare. Therefore, the profession of arms requires a combination of hardness and tenderness.

Chapter 9. The army on the march

Be aware of your surroundings. If faced with mountains, do not climb heights in order to fight. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it and deliver your attack when half the army get across. If forced to fight in marshes, have water and grass near you and get your back where there are trees, for the ground is less likely to be treacherous.

The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an enemy ambush beneath the spot. Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming. And at the same time, if birds gather on any spot, it is unoccupied. This is a useful fact to bear in mind when, for instance, the enemy has secretly abandoned their camp.

Chapter 10. Terrain

With respect to terrain, high and sunny places are advantageous not only for their strategic spot, but also because they are immune from disastrous floods.

If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have only gone halfway towards victory.

If we know that the enemy is open to attack but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have only gone halfway towards victory.

And if we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory.

Chapter 11. The nine situations

The art of war recognises different varieties of ground. One which is of great importance is contentious ground, that which if occupied, gives great advantage to either side. So, those in possession of it have the advantage in battle over the other side and victory will be assured.

In A.D. 532, Emperor Shen-Wu was surrounded by a great army, with his force being much smaller. Instead of trying to escape, he made orders to block all exits. As soon as his army saw that there was nothing for it but to conquer or die, their spirits rose to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation, charging with such ferocity that they defeated their enemy.

“Plunge your army into desperate straits and it will come off in safety, place it in a deadly peril and it will survive.”

In other words, throw your soldiers into positions from where there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight.

One of the most brilliant battles was carried out by general Han Xin of the Han dynasty in 204 BC. He detached two thousand horsemen from his army to hide in narrow passages, everyone carrying their flags. Then, he confronted the enemy with his men – while in battle, the horsemen made their move to the enemy’s base, tearing up their flags and replacing them with their own flags, when the enemy returned to their base, the sight of these flags struck them with terror. Convinced that their king had been overpowered, they broke up in wild disorder. Then from both sides, they were attacked and defeated.

The skilful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan (a type of snake). To strike at its head and be attacked by its tail, to strike at its tail and be attacked by its head, to strike at the middle and be attacked by both head and tail.

Chapter 12. Attack by fire

Another important attack is using fire. The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the enemy into confusion. When starting a fire near the enemy’s camp, it must be done so on the side facing the wind for it to spread faster.

Chapter 13. The use of spies

Espionage was a common practice, since what enables victory is foreknowledge. That is, knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions, and what he means to do.

However, it is impossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless they are properly paid for their expenses. Hence one must maintain an intimate relation with spies, more than the rest of the army. And none should be more rewarded than the spies, in order to keep the secrets, which have the power of gaining a quick and effective victory.

Spies can be obtained from your own men or your enemy’s men, offering them handsome rewards in return for valuable information. In this way, you will be able to find out the state of affairs in the enemy’s city. Thereby gaining knowledge of the enemy.

Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move. An army without spies is like a man without ears or eyes.

The different measures suited to the varieties of ground, the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics, and the fundamental laws of human nature, are of vital importance in the Art of War.

Sun Tzu ultimately emphasised the purpose of war to give way to peace and harmony within the society.

“In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace. The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.” – Sun Tzu

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Book Review: 1984 – George Orwell

George Orwell, perhaps one of the most influential English novelists of the 20th century, was a heavy opponent of totalitarian regimes, especially after what had happened in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

Rating

Rating: 5 out of 5.
George Orwell - Wikipedia
George Orwell.

He depicts what a world could possibly look like under an authoritarian regime in his dystopian novel 1984, coining neologisms such as thoughtcrime, Big Brother and doublethink.

Published in 1949, it remains highly influential in popular culture, and you have probably heard about the term Orwellian before. It is no wonder that it is the most widely used adjective derived from the name of a modern writer, even more common than Kafkaesque or Machiavellian.

It is, however, often misinterpreted. His most famous novel, 1984, depicts an oppressive society under a totalitarian and authoritarian regime, along with mass surveillance. However, the term Orwellian goes much further than this, it includes the manipulative and deceptive use of language to brainwash and control the society.

Persecution in an Orwellian dystopian world - John15.Rocks
Orwellian dystopian world.

Nothing more sinister and utterly terrifying can be thought of as a society under the dystopic world of 1984. People are in a perpetual state of war, hunger, without privacy and under surveillance twenty-four hours a day, no leisure time either. Falling in love or writing are also considered crimes, as acts of unorthodoxy. The ideal Party member is one who is celibate, a non-smoker and non-drinker, whose only conversations are the principles of Ingsoc (English Socialism), and at most spends an hour of his free time at the gym, with no aim in life except the defeat of the enemy, and hunting down of spies, saboteurs, and thought criminals. One who is literally devoted 24 hours a day to duty, where all energy is to be put into the Party, which frequently arranges programmes to keep the citizen occupied and minimise his time for critical thought.

85% of the population of Oceania (where the story takes place) are made up from proles or proletarians, a Marxist term for working class citizen. They are poor, uneducated, and living in a state of blissful ignorance. These are the only ones sufficient in numbers who could rebel against the regime. However, the State does not care about what they think since they are unable of critical thought, and thus, unable of ever rebelling. They are somewhat more “free” than the rest since they were not under surveillance and without any need of indoctrination from the ideology of the Party.

The rest of the population are composed of the Inner Party Members (the brains) and the Outer Party Members (the hands), who work for the Party, the apex of which is Big Brother. Their every move is scrutinised through telescreens (which act as a combination of a television, security camera and microphone) run by the secret Thought Police. Living under a constant worry of the smallest thing giving you away, a constant risk of being vaporized, to be considered never to have existed, an unperson, with all the evidence of your existence thrown into memory holes. Wearing an improper expression on your face was itself a punishable offence, facecrime it was called.

Big Brother is watching you.

The main work of a Party member consists of “rectifying” (a euphemism for manipulating) all historical facts and statistics to satisfy the regime’s political agenda, the result being undetectable by society. In other words, what is conceived as “truth” is not actually the real situation of things, but rather a false view that is forced to be seen as “truth”, therefore brainwashing the minds of the citizens.

The Three-Year Plans, similar to Stalin’s Five-Year Plans, were plans to increase industrial production. However, it is doubtful if they actually ever expanded production. They were used to give a false sense of increasing the quality of life and keep the population satisfied. Even announcing increasing the ration of food or certain items when they actually decreased it, the citizens being oblivious to that and of course, celebrating the event.

Stalin’s 5 Year Plan.

All these lies are manufactured in the Ministry of Truth, which is one of the four ministries of the Party. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Love with torture, and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation.

The party’s slogan is: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.

The government’s control on language goes so far as to eliminate words from the English language, to create the official dialect of Newspeak, which has simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary meant to limit the freedom of thought and discourage critical thinking that threatens the ideology of the Party, a heretical thought, one who diverges from the principles of Ingsoc, should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependant on words, it is designed to diminish the range of thought, eliminating synonyms, antonyms, verb tenses – all ambiguities and shades of meaning had been erased.

Bad would be replaced with ungood, warm with uncold, dark with unlight. The prefix doubleplus would be added to add emphasis, such as doubleplusgood meaning very good, and so on.

People who exercise freedom of thought, commit thoughtcrime or crimethink, which areunorthodox thoughts (ungoodthink) that contradict the tenets of Ingsoc.

The word “free” only means the absence and lack of something. It ceases to mean “intellectually free” and “politically free”, both have been replaced with crimethinkful.

This has an effect on people’s minds known as doublethink, a process of brainwashing the subject, where he is expected to disregard all what he believes to be true, forced in accepting the false and fake reality that is dictated by the Party. In other words, holding simultaneously two contradictory beliefs accepting both of them. One belief might seem real for you but is disregarded as false, and one is false but is real in the eyes of the Party, and hence, must be adopted regardless of what you believe. Your thoughts are to be swept under the rug. It is a sort of reality control, which lies at the very heart of the ideology.

It is a world where the privacy of your thought process is violated, and if caught with a  thoughtcrime, it may result in being vaporized or spending 25 years in forced labour camps, called joycamps. Or even worse, being brought into Room 101, the place where they present to you your worst possible nightmare, unique to each individual.

It is a world inundated with words that contradict themselves, in the spirit of Ingsoc. This demands a continuous alteration of the past and stripping yourself from all logic and rationality, even the laws of nature. For this, one must be cut off from the past and safeguard the infallibility of the Party. This day-to-day falsification of the past, is carried out by Ministry of Truth, and is absolutely necessary to the stability of the regime, the mutability of the past being the central tenet of Ingsoc.

After all, past events only survive in written records and in human memories. And since the Party is in full control of both of these, the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it.

“Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past.”

Everything that happens in the mind is what truly happens, the mind develops what is known as crimestop, an automatic process of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the possibility of any dangerous thought.

There is absolutely no plans of having another kind of society. War is always present and has been so for the past 25 years, between the three super-states: Oceania,  Eastasia and Eurasia. A war between the undisputed territory, never actually reaching the borders of the super-states. Alliances are changed, which has a dramatic impact on the society of Oceania, where the Party members of the Ministry of Truth work restlessly to eradicate all public documentation and evidence of ever being at alliance with the enemy, making the public think that they have always been in alliance with one of the super-states, and never with the other.

Errata Security: We've always been at war with Eastasia
1984 World

The Party also organises events such as the Two Minutes Hate and the Hate Week, psychological operations designed to increase the hatred of the population for the current enemy of the party.

In reality, the three super-states or unable to destroy one another. War means no more than a continuous shortage of consumption goods, and the occasional crash of a rocket bomb which brings havoc amongst the people, and which may very well be launched by the state itself. It is always the same war, there is nothing to fight for in a material sense, only for labour power to produce goods, but which are never distributed to the public, they are solely used to make more war weapons and artillery. In other words, the constant warfare is a way of destroying material possessions which might otherwise end up in the hands of the masses, making them comfortable, and hence, in the long run too intelligent, meaning that they might rebel.

War is always planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. And since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. There is only war, and the only scientific advancement is concerned with war.

This helps preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs, keeping the structure of society intact. The very word “war”, by becoming continuous, ceases to exist. In other words, a permanent peace between the super-states, would be the same as permanent war. For in that case each super-state would still be a self-contained universe, free from external influence. It is this, which amounts to the real meaning behind the slogan of the Party: War is Peace.

The story ends up with the main character, Winston Smith, being tortured in the Ministry of Love to make him say two and two makes five. And later, after being found guilty of hating Big Brother, is sent to Room 101, where he is tortured with his worst nightmare – finally breaking him and giving in. This is their ultimate weapon, to threaten you with something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. You want it to happen to the other person, to the person you most love, you don’t care what they suffer, all you care about, in the end, is yourself.

And after that, you don’t feel the same towards the other person any longer. You cease to be an individual and become part of the collective mass. For true power is power over human beings. Over the body, but above all, over the mind.

So, remember – next time you hear the word Orwellian being used, it is not just constant surveillance and an intrusive government – this is simply authoritarian. However, if there is a deceptive and manipulative use of language, such as political language designed to make lies sound truthful or make atrocities acceptable by using euphemisms, that is Orwellian.

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Book Review: Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu

The Tao Te Ching is the fundamental book for the philosophy of Taoism, attributed to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, who was said to be a contemporary of Confucius during the 5th or 6th century BC.

All his life, Lao Tzu taught that “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”, which is in fact the first paragraph of the Tao Te Ching. This can be interpreted as the Tao being teachable, but that it must be put into practice, not just to be a talker in the learning of the Tao. Language has its limitations and is only second-hand knowledge. According to ancient legend, as he was approaching his death, he was persuaded by his followers to write down his teachings, to serve as a guide on achieving the Tao for future generations.

His main ideas are the Tao or “The Way”, which is the natural order of the universe which one must discover to realise the potential for wisdom, and “Wu wei”, meaning “effortless action or actionless action”, describing a state of flow that is characterised by great ease and awareness, in which, without even trying, we achieve perfect harmony and perfect knowledge of the current situation. Just as an athlete entirely focused on what they are doing, absorbed in the moment.

Taoism along with Confucianism are the two great currents of Chinese thought, which have thoroughly moulded the culture of China.

Confucius meeting Lau Tzu is almost like yang meeting yin. Each offered his answer to chaos, from Confucius, the way of the yang: firm government, law and order, respect for authority. From Lao Tzu, the way of the yin: the natural way, the waters way, yielding to effortless action. In this sense, the yin and yang describe nature in duality with two opposite, complementary and interdependent forces.

The Taoist way is for people to be freed from their regular lifestyle, after contributing to society. In other words, to retire when the work is done, in order to find out who you ultimately are.
The basic thing in the whole philosophy is the conception of Tao.

The Tao, like water flows everywhere, to the left and to the right and it loves everything. It nurtures animals and plants and then moves on without seeking praise, when good things are happening, it is not there to receive any thanks.

The world is a system of interrelated components, none of which can survive without each other. In other words, everything arises mutually. To be and not to be, yes and no, light and dark, everything becomes a Happening.

Nature and the species arise mutually because they interdepend. There is no cause and effect, as is commonly expressed in Western thought, and this is perhaps the most important thing to grasp in the Chinese and Oriental philosophy.

The Tao is this moment, without past and future. There is no such thing as a progression in time, the spring does not become the summer, but rather there is first spring and then there is summer. In the same way, your present self does not become your future self.

The person that you are right now, is not the same person who will die because we are all a constant flux, the continuity of the person from past through present to future is an illusion.
In other words, there is a stream of the universe. In this way, the ability to hear, say music, depends on a relationship between past, present and future sounds.

The Taoists simply live now, letting things be as they want to be, and then, there will be no problem. This is a great relief.

These are my favourite and most useful lessons:

1. Be at peace

“Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind become still.” – Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16

We worry too much, we are constantly thinking about the external world, what we need to achieve, what stuff we need. To maintain the balance, we can practice mindfulness or meditation, so that when we do act, we have the sufficient energy and can do it effortlessly.

2. Be yourself

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner” – Lao Tzu

Most of our life revolves around trying to impress other people. We compare ourselves to other more successful people, and thus become frustrated. We must then learn to live in the present, not comparing ourselves to others, but rather focusing on improving ourselves.

3. True wealth

He who knows he has enough is rich. Perseverance is a sign of willpower. He who stays where he is endures. To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 33

Wealth consists not in having more, but in having few wants.

4. Less is more

Better to stop short than fill to the brim. Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt. Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it. Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 9.

Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing. I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused. Others are clear and bright, But I alone am dim and weak. Others are sharp and clever, But I alone am dull and stupid. Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea, Without direction, like the restless wind.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 20.

Appreciating what you have got, no matter how little, is the true path to the Tao.

5. Do not be attached to things

Fame or self: Which matters more? Self or wealth: Which is more precious? Gain or loss: Which is more painful?

He who is attached to things will suffer much. He who saves will suffer heavy loss. A contented man is never disappointed. He w ho knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble. He will stay forever safe

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44.

In Western culture, we often believe that having more and doing more of something will bring us more happiness. However, to be truly rich is to be content with what you already have. And, to become enlightened, we mustn’t seek power through recognition, money, or control, but rather detach ourselves from them, loving and embracing what we have got.

6. The simpler, the better

He who stands on tiptoe is not steady. He who strides cannot maintain the pace. He who makes a show is not enlightened. He who is self-righteous is not respected. He who boasts achieves nothing. He who brags will not endure. According to followers of the Tao, “These are extra food and unnecessary luggage.” They do not bring happiness. therefore followers of the Tao avoid them.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 24.

Living frugally and minimalistically, can bring much more happiness, avoiding the troubles and cluttering of our minds with having too many unnecessary things in our mind. The simple life, is the good life.

7. Being humble

Why is the sea king of a hundred streams? Because it lies below them. Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility. If he would lead them, he must follow behind. In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed; When he stands before them, they will not be harmed. The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 66

Just do what needs to be done. Never take advantage of power.

Achieve results, But never glory in them. Achieve results, But never boast. Achieve results, But never be proud. Achieve results, Because this is the natural way. Achieve results, But not through violence.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 30

Rather than seeking to be praised, be humble – this will naturally give place to praise, and happiness. Achieve results, without expecting anything in return.

8. Do not give up

A tree as great as a man’s embrace springs up from a small shoot; A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth; A journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet.

People usually fail when they are on the verge of success. So give as much care to the end as to the beginning; Then there will be no failure.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 64.

Do not be romanticised on achieving, but rather enjoy the journey. Keep going, and don’t give up.

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Book Review: Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book For All and None was Nietzsche’s favourite of his creations. It is indeed one of the most fascinating and creative pieces of work in western philosophy. Which he wrote in 10 days in sporadic bursts of inspiration.

The book has four parts, beginning with Part I: Zarathustra’s Prologue.

Part I. Zarathustra’s Prologue

It presents the journey of Persian prophet Zarathustra, who spends his time in solitude in the mountains for ten years and grows weary of his wisdom, beginning his down-going to humanity to teach them what he has learned.

Nietzsche considered Zarathustra as being the first one to establish the moral system of Good and Evil which would evolve into Judaeo-Christian morals, and which he set out to demolish with his “new” Zarathustra. He saw it as a fitting end that his fictional Zarathustra, should be the one who brings down the moral system that the real Zarathustra had started.

On his way down, he encounters an old saint in the forest who once loved mankind but grew sick of their imperfections and now loves only God. After they parted ways – he announces his famous statement:

“Could it be possible! This old saint has not heard in his forest that God is dead!”

Upon arriving to the nearest town, he goes to the market square where he preaches God’s successor: the overman, which is the “meaning of the earth”:

“Man is something to be overcome. Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Overman – a rope over an abyss […] What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.”

The original text in German contains a great deal of wordplay. For instance, Zarathustra’s downfall or down-going “untergang” is contrasted with his over-going “ubergang”. In other words, that one’s self-overcoming involves a down-going. Nietzsche’s ubermensch or overman evokes this “over-going”.

However, the people fail to understand him and burst out in laughter, Zarathustra suggests that humanity is becoming increasingly tame and domesticated, and will soon be able to breed only the “most contemptible” Last Man. Those who are all alike, like herd animals, enjoying simple pleasures and mediocrity, afraid of anything too dangerous or extreme. The last men think they have invented happiness and ask Zarathustra to turn them not into the overman, but into the last man.

In the meanwhile, the crowd is fixated on a tightrope walker who begins walking (this represents mankind balanced over an abyss making the slow and dangerous progress between animal and overman). Suddenly, a jester comes out behind him making the tightrope walker fall to the ground to his death.

The jester symbolising Zarathustra, an unannounced attraction.

The overman and the death of god are among his most important teachings. Nietzsche first wrote “God is dead” in section 108 of The Gay Science, the book he wrote before coming up with Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is commonly misinterpreted. It refers to a historical event in response to the decline of Christianity with the Enlightenment bringing about scientific rationality. It represents a crisis in the existing moral values opening the possibility for nihilism.

The overman is meant to be the solution to nihilism, by conquering it, he is the meaning we should give to our lives. He puts all his faith in himself and relies on nothing else.

Part I. Zarathustra’s discourses

The rest of part 1 is followed by twenty-two “discourses” addressed by Zarathustra to his band of disciples. Some notable ideas include to “live dangerously”, to create one’s own meaning, and the introduction of the will to power.

The will to power is the fundamental component of human identity. Everything we do is an expression of self-realisation (becoming who you truly are) that can sometimes take a form of a will to power.

It is a psychological analysis of all human action. Contrasted with living for procreation, pleasure, or happiness, the will to power is the summary of all man’s struggle against his surrounding environment as well as his reason for living in it. In essence, it is the main drive force in humans.

Over all these discourses hovers Zarathustra’s dictum “man is something that must be overcome.”

A particularly important discourse is: “On the Three Metamorphoses”

There are three stages of progress toward the overman: the camel, the lion, and the child.

The spirit first becomes a camel, but not everybody can become a camel. There are many heavy things for the spirit, things that weigh upon us.  A camel requires us to be greater than ourselves, and that requires some sacrifice – the strength longs for the heavy. Thus we must exercise self-discipline and renounce to our comforts. One can then become the lion, one who wants to take on freedom, but is confronted by the mightiest of dragons, on every scale of which is a rule, every “Thou shalt” compiled since the beginning of time – the lion must fight back and oppose the dragon, saying I Will and uttering the “sacred No”. However, the lion lives in rebellion – it has yet to undergo a final and last transformation – becoming the child.

“The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes.”

The child is the act of new creation. He can thus create his own values, giving way to the overman.

The final discourse reverts to the death of God and the need for the overman to give significance to the earth; Zarathustra extols the man so full of strength and well-being he bestows gifts on others because he has to and exhorts his disciples to independence. Then he leaves them.

Zarathustra not only refers to the death of God but states at the end:

“Dead are all gods, now we want the overman to live – let this be our last will one day at the great noontide!”

Nietzsche’s task was monumental, he called it a “Revaluation of All Values”, in which he seeks to offer an alternative to traditional values in the absence of a divine order and avert nihilism, so human beings might stop turning their eyes toward a supernatural realm and begin to acknowledge the value of this world.

Nietzsche uses the metaphor of an open sea, which can be both exhilarating and terrifying. The people who eventually learn to create their lives anew will represent a new stage in human existence, the overman.

Part II

In Part II, Zarathustra is more of a dramatic character and many of the chapters involve action. There is a much-expanded recapitulation of the “God is dead” theme, and the reintroduction of the overman as God’s successor. He expresses pity and nausea for mankind and the need to overcome it, attacking organised religion.

There are also several critiques on contemporary culture, contemplative life  and the search for “pure knowledge”.

Chapter 18 titled “Of Great Events” is a dramatic turning point in the book. A discourse on revolution and anarchism is allied to an uncommon amount of action and a fantastical story told by sailors. Zarathustra’s disciples “hardly listened” to his discourse, we are told, because of their anxiety to repeat the sailors’ story, the point of which is that Zarathustra’s alter ego has been seen flying through the air crying “It is time! It is high time!” “For what is high time?” Zarathustra asks himself when he learns this: the answer (supressed for the moment but henceforward never absent from his mind) is: “Time to declare the eternal recurrence”.

This concept appeared earlier in The Gay Science under the title “the greatest weight” and might be described as the event for the sake of which the whole book exists.

The afterlife being the same as this life.

But if everything eternally recurs, this includes that which is small in man. Confronted with this thought, Zarathustra is so sickened that he is unable to get up, eat or drink for seven days. After this period he abandons his disciples in a mood of profound misery, and this time for good.

Part III

In Part III, for the most part Zarathustra is alone and addressing himself.

The four last chapters of this part contain the climax of the book. Zarathustra stands up and accepts the eternal recurrence: he becomes a Yes-sayer, loving life as it is. This shows an acceptance of fate, or amor fati – a defining characteristic of the overman.

 As a solitary man, he speaks to his own soul, to the life he feels within him, and to himself in his future reincarnation, the child he wants to have by “eternity” is himself.

Part IV

In Part IV, Zarathustra is visited by a number of “higher men” who, as a consequence of Zarathustra’s instruction, become conscious of their inadequacy.

Zarathustra goes out into the world again and accumulates a large following, to whom he preaches his teachings of the overman, the eternal recurrence, and the will to power.

These are the main concepts of the book. However, there is still much to learn – it is a book which has so much wisdom and life advise that it should be regarded as a life book, which ought to be revised ever so often. It talks about virtue, how to live life,  how to be a creator of values, to dance and to sing, how to live dangerously, to rise high and use your own legs, to become a life-affirming individual and much more.


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Thus Spoke Zarathustra in 10 Minutes | Friedrich Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book For All and None was Nietzsche’s favourite of his creations. It is indeed one of the most fascinating and creative pieces of work in western philosophy.


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How To Practice Stoicism in Daily Life | Modern Stoic

Stoicism is unlike any other philosophy in the world. Almost 2000 years have passed since its origin, its teachings still remain relevant in today’s contemporary world and they continue to astonish us with their timeless wisdom.

We have control over how we approach things, rather than imagining a perfect world – a utopia – the Stoic practices realism and pragmatism, dealing with the world as it is – no strings attached, while pursuing one’s self-improvement through virtues such as:

1. Wisdom: understanding the world without prejudice, logically and calmly.

2. Courage: facing daily challenges and struggles with no complaints.

3. Justice: treating others fairly.

4. Temperance: voluntary self-restraint or moderation – where an individual refrains from doing something by sheer will power.

People who cultivate these virtues can bring positive change in themselves and in others.

Today, we colloquially use the word stoic to mean someone who faces pain or hardship without the display of feeling and without complaint. Someone who remains calm under pressure avoiding emotional extremes. While this notion is important to Stoicism, the philosophy goes beyond just an attitude.

Stoicism can help us find calmness in a world filled with pain, anxiety, and insatiable desires. To Stoics, we live in a reality that does not care about our personal opinions, we cannot ask it to remove the suffering and pain. But this does not mean we are helpless, there are two domains of life: the external, the things that happen in our lives which we cannot control, and the internal, how our mind reacts and interprets the external reality, which we can control.

Calmness

Focusing on the things we cannot control will make us endlessly unsatisfied. We must then focus solely on what we can control. Our sense of joy comes from the pursuit of the meaningful things in our lives, not superficial things.

A truly satisfied person is someone who can live without the things that he desires or feels comfort with. No wealth, material abundancy, fame or power has any value if the person who possesses them has not yet learned to live properly without them, it is after all, temporary.

As Marcus Aurelius puts it  “Almost nothing material is needed for a happy life for he who has understood existence”

Temporarily refraining ourselves from the things that we depend on can prove how truly strong you are without the things that you think you need. Only then can we know that we have been using them not because we needed them, but because we had them.

We must realize that nothing is good or bad inherently, but only our judgements and interpretations of things can be good or bad.

We should strive in an acceptance and indifference towards everything that happens (not to be confused with a lack of empathy) focusing our attention on controlling our reactions to the things that happen. Acting virtuously regardless of misfortunes life might bring us.

With this we can begin to get rid of the chaos of the world and find some form of happiness and presence within our self.

Life is not a sprint

We are usually unsatisfied with what our life is, and we compare ourselves to other more successful people, constantly looking to the future potential of what our lives could be. The reality is that we always live in the present, and we should not compare ourselves to others, but rather focus on improving ourselves both mentally and physically.

It is hard since we are surrounded by a culture that convinces us that the more stuff we have and the more popular we are, the more happier we will be. It is true that material stuff brings us happiness, but it is a trap. It gives us short term pleasure and a desire for more material, an insatiable desire that cannot be quenched since we want more and more.

Consumption society

The stuff we frequently chase in life reveal to be rather petty and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We must define our happiness not by what we own or achieve and not by others see us as, but by how we think, how we view ourselves, and how we live our own life through our virtues.

And this can be attained by accepting reality as it is, being indifferent to what we cannot control and pursuing our own self-improvement. To Stoicism, this is how we remain happy and satisfied with ourselves.


“You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius


We should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?” – Epictetus


“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” — Seneca


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Watch The Video! (Includes Stoic Quotes)

Stoicism and Quotes

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